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3 and half degrees of separation 3 and half degrees of separation
by Joseph Gatt
2020-12-13 11:10:48
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About a century ago, an experiment was designed to figure out how many degrees of separation there were between human beings around the world.

That is, on average, how many people would I need to talk to before reaching anyone around the world?

So here's the math.

3.5_400Facebook (a more or less reliable source) has it that men on a rough average have 500 friends and acquaintances, and women on a rough average have 200 friends and acquaintances. 50% of the world population is male, 50% female, so on average each human being is roughly connected to around 350 people.

Then there's the matter of definition. If I called one my acquaintances, would they pick up the phone? How much information do those 350 people know about me? What kind of favors could they provide? If I were to ask one of those 350 people to introduce me to their circle of friends, would they introduce me to their circle of friends?

Also, most of us have “interlocking” friends, which means that the same group of people tends to share the same group of friends. It's not like I, Yossi, has 350 friends, and you, Jim, have a completely different set of 350 friends. Jim and I share about 200 friends in common, let's say, if we went to college together.

So to be able to calculate the degrees of separation, we would need to focus on those 100 people that Jim knows and that I don't know. And then James knows 100 people that neither Jim nor I know. And then Thanos knows 100 people that neither James nor John nor do I know.

So if we focus on the 100 “unique” friends that we have. Multiply 100 by 100 and you get 10,000. 10 thousand people are “two degrees of separation.” Multiply 10 thousand by 10 thousand, and you get 10,000,000 ten million. So ten million people is three degrees of separation. Multiply 10 million by 10 million, and you get 1,000,000,000,000 one trillion. One trillion, and there are only 7.5 billion of us.

So it's not 6 degrees of separation. It's more like 3.2 degrees of separation.

What does this mean?

This means that if you want to talk to Yossi Gatt, and that you asked all your friends if they know Yossi Gatt, chances are no one will say “yes.” If you ask your friends to ask their friends if they know Yossi Gatt, chances are no one will say “yes.” If you ask your friends to ask their friends, those friends who in turn ask their friends if they know Yossi Gatt, maybe one of my high school, college, grad school, foster family, workplace colleagues, family or other friends will say “of course! I've known him for years!”

What does three degrees of separation imply?

In terms of marketing, it implies that if you send an email to your friends and ask those people to send all their friends an email, who in turn ask all their friends to send an email, you will have reached the entire planet in three rounds.

If you have information that you send to all your friends, and ask all your friends to send it to all their friends, who in turn send it to all their friends, you'll have reached the entire planet.

If you lose something, or you're looking for someone. You ask all your friends who ask all their friends who ask all their friends, the entire planet will know.

If you're an activist and believe in a cause. You talk about the cause to all your friends who talk about it to all their friends who talk about it to all their friends, the entire planet knows.

If you're trying to raise funds. Inform all your friends and ask them to inform all their friends who inform all their friends, you can get the entire planet to donate.

Of course this doesn't mean the entire planet will care, much less pay attention to what goes on. People are selective about the information they share, and have priorities as to what information is being shared with their relatives and close ones.

But be careful. There's a saying I invented (maybe someone else came up with it before me) that goes:

“people like to share good news about themselves and bad news about everyone else.”

So careful what message you want to spread!


   
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